Guarding Against Materialism
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, embrace the alienated and help the sick. In light of this very explicit instruction to help the poor, I do have to question why as Christians we are occupied with materialistic things. Is it really necessary to pay £70 for a Jack Wills hoodie? Or £50 for a Superdry shirt? Yet these are the labels I see in abundance amongst students and twenties in church and at Momentum and basically anywhere where the primary demographic is young/middle class. I am not building a case against ‘luxury’ brands – I see the case that they too form part of our economy and buying their goods supports the industry. But what I am challenging is what a preoccupation with image/brands may reflect – that is an inward looking, wilful ignorance of the suffering of those around us. Dressing a certain way is not in itself wrong. But choosing to direct your energy and resources primarily into selfish pursuits is. And yes, I will say that it is wrong for people of a comfortable, but not wealthy, life (a problematic category in itself, I know) to spend this kind of money first, and then protest that they have none left over to give to the poor. This just demonstrates how damaging materialism is, and how it prevents us from fulfilling one of the central tenets of the gospel, which is to remember the poor.
Even within the church, I realised I had to check that I was not becoming increasingly consumerist. Am I becoming more concerned with how slick a worship set is than with the plight of the poor? Do I care more about the image of the church than I do about building relationships, which is ultimately the thing that keeps people in the church, beyond the flashy website and promotional fliers? None of these things are in themselves wrong, but when they begin to receive disproportionate attention, at the expense of outreach, when they become more laudable than remembering the poor, then we probably need to take a step back and ask ourselves honestly if we are becoming materialistic consumers. I shouldn’t expect the church to entertain me and fulfil my own selfish needs, and I shouldn’t leave outreach to the poor to other people. As a Christian I should be concerned with what we as the church can do for society. How can we be that city on a hill? How can we be salt and light? How can we bless those around us with grace, love and charity?
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus instructs us to ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’ There is a clear link between helping the poor and evangelism, and helping the poor also glorifies God. It is our good deeds that will get the world’s attention, not how ‘cool’ we are, or how good we sound or how modern we look. And we as Christians should guard against taking our eyes off this mandate and putting other things, whether it’s worldly materialism or ‘Christian consumerism’, above it.